Mayor’s Police Accountability Panelists Balk At His Plan To Select Next COPA Chief

Rahm Emanuel
Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel speaks during a Jan. 25, 2017 press conference in Chicago. Matt Marton / Associated Press
Rahm Emanuel
Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel speaks during a Jan. 25, 2017 press conference in Chicago. Matt Marton / Associated Press

Mayor’s Police Accountability Panelists Balk At His Plan To Select Next COPA Chief

Members of a police accountability task force set up by Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel are not on board with his plan to select a permanent leader for the agency that investigates shootings by officers.

A statement from Emanuel’s office on Tuesday said he would choose the Civilian Office of Police Accountability’s chief administrator with help from an advisory panel he is forming. Retired Cook County Judge Patricia Banks will run the agency on an interim basis, replacing Sharon Fairley, who is preparing to step down.

Emanuel making the selection would not jibe with a recommendation of the Police Accountability Task Forc e, a panel he created during a public outcry over the Laquan McDonald video. The task force last year recommended dozens of steps, including the creation of COPA and a community board whose powers would include selecting that agency’s chief.

On Wednesday, task force chair Lori Lightfoot urged the City Council to follow that recommendation.

“In these times, where there’s a heightened scrutiny on the part of the public about every facet of the local policing infrastructure, it’s important to come up with a process and an end result that people are going to respect and that’s going to have legitimacy,” said Lightfoot, president of the city’s Police Board, which makes final decisions on firing officers.

Victor Dickson, another task force member, said its recommendations were designed to be adopted as a whole, not à la carte.

“The community oversight board was a way to ensure that the community is engaged and to build credibility so the community has confidence in policing,” said Dickson, head of the Safer Foundation, a group that helps former prisoners rejoin the workforce.

Last year, Emanuel said he would create the board but, according to his staff, he acceded to a request from community groups to help design it.

Some local foundations provided funding for the Grassroots Alliance for Police Accountability to gather community input and develop a proposal for the board’s composition and roles.

After more than a year of work, GAPA coordinator Mecole Jordan said Wednesday that the alliance will unveil its proposal next month.

Jordan said the length of the GAPA process owes to two factors. “First, we had to get through the anger and pain that is a very real part of the community because this has been a decadeslong problem of community members saying that they have been harassed and hurt and abused by those that are supposed to protect them.”

Second, Jordan said, was a lack of understanding among community members about the city’s byzantine police-accountability apparatus.

“I’m hoping that, when our recommendations come out, the mayor will review them and slow down and make sure the community voice is heard and make sure that the selection process while the community-oversight board is being established is responsive to the community’s concerns and needs,” Jordan said.

Emanuel put Fairley in charge of COPA’s predecessor, the Independent Police Review Authority, nearly two years ago during the uproar about the McDonald video.

Her planned departure emerged from the mayor’s office last week. A COPA spokeswoman said Fairley is considering a run to replace outgoing Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan.

At a news conference last week, Emanuel would not answer whether there would be a community board to choose Fairley’s successor.

“I’m going to be naming a process that has input to have a set of names that reflect, I think, the independence and authority we’ve built over the last 22 months,” he said.

On Tuesday, after the statement announcing Emanuel’s plan for replacing Fairley, his aides did not answer messages asking what role, if any, the plan left for a community board.

Kevin Graham, president of a Fraternal Order of Police lodge that represents 10,000 Chicago cops, urged Emanuel to choose a COPA chief who would treat officers fairly, something he accused Fairley of not always doing.

“We see this as a great opportunity for the mayor to appoint someone who supports good law enforcement and proper investigations,” Graham said.

Chip Mitchell reports on policing and gun violence out of WBEZ’s West Side studio. Follow him @ChipMitchell1.